Today, I’d like to present a guest blog from our good friend and poet, Phillip A. Ellis. This is an especially interesting article and I feel that Ellis presents many good points here that should be considered. When it comes to poetry, I have very little critical experience (well, none, really), so I am happy to defer to Ellis in these matters. As little critical work as has been done on Hodgson’s fiction, even less attention has been given to his poetry. Thankfully, we’re able to start correcting that error with this intriguing essay.
“The Voice of the Ocean” and Hodgson’s Novels: Is there a Link?
by Phillip A. Ellis
William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and The House on the Borderland are his most sustained explorations of cosmicism. This same cosmicism is absent from the vast majority of his short stories, the best of which share an emphasis upon the ocean as a locus of horror with his other two novels. Question is, is any of this shared with his poetry?
While a certain amount of Hodgson’s poetry does deal with the ocean, most of it does not do so in respect to the weird. The chief exception, the most notable exception, is “The Voice of the Ocean”, and this poem ties together both the cosmicism and the sea motif. And it has a strong bearing on the cosmicism of both the two novels already named.
Briefly, in “The Voice of the Ocean” the poet records a dialogue between the ocean and a number of sleeping souls. The cosmic element enters the poem early on, where the ocean describes the state of the world prior to the emergence of humanity. This is the passage that begins “Listen, and ye shall learn!–” and that ends with the
“Thus was creation now achieved, and so,
In his right time, man was evolved, and grew
Into his present shape, with underneath
His heavier flesh, a soul such as was born
In that supremely distant time, when man,
As ye now know him, was undreamt of earth!”
The rest of the poem deals with the dialogue, first with the sleepingsouls, and finally with the poet. The motif and theme that dominates this dialogue concerns the fate of the soul, whether it is damned, and for what, and its final disposition.
Throughout the poem, there are variations on the following:
”Poor child! Hast thou e’er thought upon thy death
As a cessation from the joys of earth?
Then know that every death thou diest leads on
To a much fuller life, including all
That thou hast thought and lived in those before.
And as a fuller life implies more power
To live, to understand, to suffer pain,
So may’st thou comprehend that on each life
Shall stand thy cause to suffer pain or joy
When the Last Life be reached, and thou shalt live
In culmination of all joy and grief
That thou hast ever known in all thy lives.
This passage reminds me of the central conceit of The Night Land: there, the narrator is vouchsafed a vision of the future, where he and his beloved are united through the quest of the hero, so that what he narrates is a story of one such “Last Life.”
This means that “The Voice of the Ocean” unites both bodies of novels, as well as the shorter, sea-based fiction, and it leads further support to a reading of what seems to be a central tenet of Hodgson’s worldview. And it shows that there is that unity, which has been hardly remarked upon.
I will now argue that, if we are to look at Hodgson’s worldview, we can no longer ignore the poetry. Especially since so much of it has not been written in order to make a living, so that it serves as a means to self-expression precisely amenable to conveying aspects of that worldview.